When I was young, there was a rumor about me: I liked broken things. These rumors begat a tradition of broken gifts: broken pottery, Christmas ornaments made from fragments of other ornaments, old typewriters, etc. Next came the animals. Broken squirrels, birds, cats, and dogs. They had finally given me something I could fix.
They kept coming. It felt as if the veterinary clinic built itself around me rather than me building it. When I return the animal to its people, I always feel as if I am restoring something. Something clicks into place. I can’t say I meant to do this. I also can’t say I dislike it.
I do wonder how my life would have turned out if there had been a different rumor about me, or none at all.
Dust isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you in here. There are sticky hands picking you up, turning you over, and putting you down. Here, leaving isn’t the best thing that can happen to you and staying isn’t the worst. The only thing you can wish for here is that when you’re broke, you’re broke beyond repair. Restoration is the damnation itself. We have hairline fractures and spider web cracks and loose seams and lost feet. But worse, we are broken by time. We outlive our sell by dates. We have no way to break ourselves down.
What does it mean to make something un-broken? It is not a matter of glue or welding or sewing or even gold paint. It is about finding the way its creator must have imagined it. They did not see a whole with parts to be fixed. They looked where there was nothing and created. I start long after creation has ended.
That is what I have to remember when I sit down in front of a new canvas, or ceramic bowl, or frayed tapestry. I close my eyes and touch its surface with my gloved hands. I breathe in and out until I have un-molded the clay, untied all the threads, and brushed up each stroke of paint. I take myself back as far as I can, until I can feel the artist looking at their blank canvas. I let their dreams settle into my mind like sand to the ocean floor.
I like the little ones best. The ones I can hold completely in my hands. I like the way they hum. Often I am called to people’s homes. I like the way they invite me in. They stand with the door open when I pull up in my van. The faces they make—full of anxiety, relief, and hope—make me feel as if I am their parent come home.
Not everyone is this gracious or welcoming. The appliances are dinged and dented from signs of frustration. Their owners thought a good kick would fix the problem. These are the kind of issues I cannot fix. I have a certain disdain for them.
My daughter makes videos of my demolitions for the internet. She said, “This shit could be fun to watch like zit popping or pressure washing.” She stays out of the way and my work isn’t interrupted.
One time, as a wrecking ball took down a chimney she grabbed my megaphone and yelled, “Wait do it again I didn’t get it.” The man in the Cat froze and stared at her until she started laughing. And then I was laughing and I am not a man who laughs easily.
When my daughter posts the videos, she edits them into a loop. You see the window, or door, or wall fall apart, come together, fall apart, come together. There is a metaphor here but it fails me. I’m sure this brilliant daughter of mine would know. Sometimes I wonder if she is a product of me falling apart or coming together.
Every fall, Mount Vesuvius destroys Pompeii, right as my intro class begins. I show them the mosaic of Alexander the Great. The projection and the image are high quality. The students and I are taken aback when Alexander appears on his horse in a huge, detailed mosaic. I hear a girl say damn under her breath.
One student is not impressed. He asks how the artist broke up the tile without messing up the picture. The other students burst into laughter. The artist started with the squares, ya’ big idiot, says the boy sitting behind him. I was kidding, he roars back.
I click onto the next slide and the next. Their favorite mosaic is the simplest one, a skeleton holding two cups. I ask them why and one boy says, it looks like he’s double fisting it.
A girl says, it looks likes it could be from now. Another boy in the back shouts, it would be a shite puzzle. The laughter continues and I let it get a bit raucous.
The boy from earlier, the big idiot, raises his hand and says, I like that it’s broken and not broken at the same time. Like it has to be both. Everyone is quiet. We all turn and look at Alexander again. We agree with our silence. I click through the slides of mosaics, looping through them again and again. All broken and not broken at the same time.
I hang two mirrors facing each other. I can see my other selves waving up and down the mirror. We all look as happy, sad, lonely, and loved as the next. I find myself forgetting which one I am.
M.M. Kaufman lives in New Orleans where she earned an MFA in the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She has work published with and forthcoming from Slush Pile Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes, The Normal School, and Hobart.